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Explaining Scholarships: Part 2 June 18, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research.
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In this second part, I’ll explain the other two categories of scholarships that researchers can pursue. As a reminder, I’ll list the four categories again:

  1. Egyptian-funded scholarships; or what we call “be3that” or in English “missions”. These missions generally involve specific research areas.
  2. Governmental scholarships funded by foreign countries; they’re typically a part of the cultural and academic collaboration between Egypt and other countries. They are called “mena7″ or in English “Scholarships”. Like missions, these scholarships involve specific research areas.
  3. Scholarships offered by foreign entities to promote higher education in developing countries. These scholarships don’t necessarily involve specific research areas.
  4. Scholarships offered by academic institutions abroad and announced by a specific research center, academic department, or school, and always are offered for a specific subject area.

3- Scholarships Offered by Foreign Entities to Promote Higher Education in Developing Countries

This kind of scholarships is offered by organizations that are willing to pay tuition fees for researchers so they can study in the countries of these organizations. The most important condition (besides applying and qualifying to be accepted) is that these researchers have to go back to their mother countries to serve there. Some of these organizations may send announcements to specific departments in universities, but mostly you have to work on you own to find these types of scholarships. Sometimes the scholarships are themed; for example promoting women in science or minorities or things of the sort. So it’s very important that once you find such a scholarship that you identify if it’s “themed.”

What to do: Here you have to do some work besides the routine checking of the department’s secretary. You need to develop a plan of extensive and thorough online search for such scholarships. You can use any of the following search terms:

  • Computer science PhD scholarship
  • Computer science PhD studentship
  • PhD scholarship + “Your general area of research; for example artificial intelligence”

Or any variation on these terms. Three Points to make here:

  • A studentship is similar to a scholarship but involves summer work on a research project. The financial amount paid to the recipient is normally tax-free, but the recipient is required to fulfill work requirements. Types of studentships vary among universities and countries. In the UK, studentships are rarely given out due to limited funding. In North American universities, studentships are more commonly known as teaching and research assistantships. Studentships are almost exclusively awarded to research students, preferably at the PhD. level.
  • You have to focus on the deadlines; announcements for old scholarships are sometimes found and extremely frustrating, so you may want to add the year you want to your search, preferably an academic year ahead (If we’re in 2008 then you want to find scholarships whose deadline is either by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009)
  • You HAVE TO prepare the language level required by the announcing organization or the institutions in that country. This may not be mandatory, but it sure enhances your opportunities in being elected for the scholarship. Did I forget to tell you these kinds of scholarships are also competitive? They are.

Useful websites that will be valuable in your search for this category are:

4- Scholarships Offered by Academic Institutions Abroad

Now this category is the most complex, but let me explain it a bit more. Basically there are two aspects to this category:

  • Academic schools or departments present scholarships every academic year for their national students as well as overseas students willing to pursue a higher academic degree. It’s a part of the school or department’s contribution to society.
  • Research centers (led by senior professors) have research projects that are funded by their governments. These professors want young researchers to work in these projects; each contributing a part to the total project and in the meantime obtaining his or her degree. Since these projects are funded in advance, the professors can pay for these young researchers to be on the project. Of course this involves getting actual performance and productivity out of the researcher.

What to do: Deciding to go for a scholarship of this kind requires extensive work. First of all, I’d like to refer you to this entry I wrote about establishing correspondence with foreign professors and academic departments. The first four steps will be done anyway (namely: identify countries of strong research status, identify top universities, identify faculties or departments or schools related to your field, and learn about the PhD research program they offer.) Once you’ve done that, you need to check the universities you chose for scholarship announcements, and make sure you check the PhD scholarships as these universities also offer scholarships for undergraduate students. After you put your hands on the scholarship announcements, you’ll find sufficient information about the application process and requirements, just make sure you check what costs the scholarship covers, because some offered scholarships are limited to only tuition fees, after that you have to cover your personal expenses. Not all of them are like this though, so you still have a good chance.

Now if you want to go the other way, which is to search for a research center’s scholarship offering, that would be your most flexible option. You can do this either following my guide here to the end, or by again searching the Internet for things like these:

  • PhD Student required (needed, wanted, and so on) in “your research area” + “preferably the next academic year”
  • PhD studentship + research center + “your research area”
  • Research Assistant required (needed, wanted, and so on) in “your research area”

Of course I’m assuming that people reading this know how to manipulate search parameters to find the best results. I use double quotes all the time, but some people prefer a more generalized form.

My personal thoughts on this last method is that it’s better and more systematic to search for academic departments and research centers in your research area and check whatever they may be offering. It will save you a long and painful screening process of the search results.

Finally some useful link for this entry in general:

I hope this entry would be of use to anyone reading it, and if anything needs more clarification, I’d be happy to respond to the request by e-mail or via comments.

Explaining Scholarships: Part 1 June 17, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Research.
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This is the third topic of its kind; previously, I wrote two entries about managing a thesis and establishing contact with a foreign academic institution. This time, I’m going to talk about the complex subject that is SCHOLARSHIPS, and how could anybody get one. A scholarship is an award of access to an institution, or a financial aid award for an individual student scholar, for the purpose of furthering their education. (Definition from Wikipedia.org)

The key to understand this topic is to realize that it has four branches:

  1. Egyptian-funded scholarships; or what we call “be3that” or in English “missions”. These missions generally involve specific research areas.
  2. Governmental scholarships funded by foreign countries; they’re typically a part of the cultural and academic collaboration between Egypt and other countries. They are called “mena7″ or in English “Scholarships”. Like missions, these scholarships involve specific research areas.
  3. Scholarships offered by foreign entities to promote higher education in developing countries. These scholarships don’t necessarily involve specific research areas.
  4. Scholarships offered by academic institutions abroad and announced by a specific research center, academic department, or school, and always are offered for a specific subject area.

I’ll explain the first two in this entry then the other two in the next entry.

1- Egyptian-Funded Scholarships

Missions are scholarships that are funded by the Egyptian government in order for researchers to acquire academic degrees in subjects for which the resources are not available locally. Of course, that’s a “rosy” theory, because in real life these scholarships can be for any subject the researcher may choose. The Egyptian government specifies a budget for research, a part of this budget is allocated to missions. This part of budget is distributed to the Egyptian universities, and each university in turn distributes its part of the budget to the faculties. I don’t know the exact mechanisms for this distribution or how the decision of the allocation is made (is it equal distribution? is it based on the number of TA staff? does it depend on the importance of the faculty in serving community?) But I heard that the process begins with the academic departments; they specify what they need in terms of missions, this goes all the way up until it reaches the university council, then the budget needed is determined and requested.

I don’t think young researchers have any say in the matter, they can however pressure the faculty administration for more missions, especially if it’s a faculty like ours with a young and promising specialty (i.e. computer science.)

What to do: Keep in contact with the department head and the faculty vice dean for postgraduate affairs. Constant nagging is a magical tool to get what you want from them. Also, you can go to the university’s cultural affairs department “Alsho2oon Althaqafeyya” and ask employees about upcoming missions. This will keep you up to date maybe even before the news reach the faculty. Another useful thing is to constantly check the web site of the cultural affairs hosted by the Ministry of Higher Education, in addition to the local newspapers. Announcements for missions can always be found there when such missions are available.


2- Governmental Scholarships Funded by Foreign Countries

These scholarships are announced by academic institutions on their web sites. These institutions send mail announcements to the Egyptian universities and these announcements can always be found at the departments’ secretaries. These scholarships have deadlines, meaning that if you have to apply before that deadline. There are three main problems with these scholarships:

  • They sometimes come from countries that we don’t fancy as research destinations (for example Malaysia or China or Eastern Europe.) That’s not always the case though.
  • The mail announcements from these institutions sometimes arrive just before their deadline due to poor postal service, this leaves the researcher with a narrow window of opportunity to successfully apply.
  • Applying for these scholarships does not guarantee admission, because they’re highly competitive. The institutions receive many applications and filter them based on academic merits and specialties.

What to do: Keep in contact with the department secretary, you don’t want to miss the deadline of a good scholarship by a day (exactly what used to happen to me!) Also, such announcements are sometimes available through the cultural affairs website: http://www.mohe-casm.edu.eg/ and also the website of the postgraduate affairs of Mansoura University: http://www.mans.edu.eg/arabic/pgs/. When you do get your hands on a good scholarship, pay attention to the details of the application process; you don’t want to waste your efforts because you did something wrong.

A heated debate June 16, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.

There’s an ongoing heated debate among some of my colleagues (including me of course) about the issue of whether we should dedicate more time to help students at the expense of our own personal gains. Of course, there are two side in this debate (three if we count the “silent” majority who don’t care!) One side believes that we must do everything we can to help students, and it’s our primary and most important responsibility. The other side of course believes that our most important responsibility is to do our research and get our academic degrees; provided we don’t neglect our duties in the classes we’re assigned.

Two things to pinpoint here:

  1. The first side of the debate is strongly supported by Waleed; one of the very few colleagues that I genuinely respect.
  2. No one supports balance. It has to be a total division of time between the two activities; no mutual partnership between both.

Well, for the first point, it’s almost only Waleed really who supports total dedication to students’ needs. Waleed has sincere integrity, and he practices what he preaches one hundred percent. He’s totally devoted to attending to students classes and giving them extra effort; especially in programming. I don’t see him doing anything for himself; even if he’s developing his programming and scientific skills it’s for the greater benefit of those kids at the faculty. Maybe I’m wrong because I don’t see him all the time, but when I do see him, it’s always like this.

The second point is mainly true because at our faculty we’re in a situation where we can’t really divide the day or the week. That’s because:

  • We have limited spaces to give lectures and sections, so we kind of use the entire day,
  • We’re relatively outnumbered by a large number of courses that most of us aren’t specialized in, so we must study in whatever spare time we have to make sense of these new subjects and outsmart the students. There’s no easy way for someone to hold on to three or four course every year because we tend to change from year to year; some of us leave, and some of us take time off, and new colleagues are enrolled.

Someone may ask me this: On which front do you fight? Well, I’m all for balance (I never did practice it because of the two points I just stated) but I certainly don’t believe (anymore) that I should give my 100% effort to students. I gave more than a 100% effort to the faculty; I spent days and nights thinking and obsessing about all kinds of things related to my work. It was only when I received a request to present a status report about progress in my Master thesis that I stopped and asked: What the hell am I doing? Actually, I’m kind of fond of faculty work; I love studying new courses and helping students understand them. I love administrative work like preparing the academic year’s timetable, preparing course specifications, and exams related tasks. I do these things well and that gives me confidence in doing them more. But the bottom line was these things aren’t enough to make me advance in my career. They simply don’t count! The university won’t promote me based on an excellent history of classes and faculty work, the ONLY parameter that’s measured is whether I’ve finished my Master degree (and later of course my PhD). The Egyptian universities law regarding the duties of the teaching assistants states clearly (and ambiguously at the same time!!!) that the first and utmost important job of a TA is to get his or her Master and PhD degrees. Then classes come second with no stress except the stress that they mustn’t hinder the TA’s efforts to get the academic degrees.

I strongly applaud Waleed for being the most helpful he can be, and I don’t dare to put myself in his league of the most helpful people in the faculty. I can acknowledge that I have helped a lot, but not as much as he did. Maybe it’s not just because I found out that I have to do another task and do it as well as I can; it could be age as well, but this isn’t the point. But still I believe that it IS enough to give my 100% effort in the sections, dedicate 3 or 4 hours each week to help my students (but I strongly stress that they should first be willing to help themselves), but other than that, I have another job to tend to, and it’s not less important by all means.

Long story short, I found out the hard way that actually by dedicating my efforts to the day to day tasks of the faculty I was actually not doing my job; my real job; which is RESEARCH. That doesn’t mean at all that I support anyone neglecting his or her sections to pursue personal gains of any kind, but we have to put in mind that getting academic degrees isn’t just a personal gain, it’s also dedicated to the students, and to the country in general. Instead of being “academic policy executors” we get to be “academic policy makers.” If we’re good enough, then we’ll fix the problems that we have today and will create a better tomorrow. There’s nothing we can do for today except work hard to help as we can, but we must never forget that we have yet another noble goal to achieve; which is to make a better future and help our country progress.